Intercambios Saved My Spanish

After more than a month in Spain, I have a new level of respect for anyone who decides to move to a country where they will have to speak a different language. Even the simplest sentiments can be difficult to translate. Oftentimes, it takes me about twice as long to say the same sentence in Spanish as it would take to say it in English. Sometimes I hold up my hand, say “espera,” and take a minute to search for the word I need. And every once in a while, after staring into space for far too long, I sigh and say, “no importa.”

Though I try to practice as much as possible, it hasn’t been as easy as I expected. Originally, I imagined myself speaking Spanish all the time once I got off the plane in Madrid but it soon became clear that our program coordinators were going to communicate with us almost exclusively in English. Whenever I was hanging out with other people in my program they spoke English too. After a couple weeks I felt myself comfortably slipping into speaking English whenever I could, which was often, considering all my friends were Americans from our program.

Wait, I would think every so often. This isn’t what I came here to do. It felt wrong to only ever be speaking in Spanish when I was with my host mom or in class. Wasn’t I supposed to be trying to immerse myself in this new language? At the same time, I didn’t want to ask my friends to try to have Spanish-only conversations with me, and I really did not want to attempt to ask a native speaker if they ever wanted to chat. I’ve played out the scenario in my head, and the only way it ever ends is badly. So badly. And awkwardly.

The perfect solution to my problem came a few weeks after we started classes: an intercambio. In Spanish, the word intercambio means “exchange,” and in this instance the exchange is vocal. Our university matches us up with a native Spanish-speaking university student who wants to practice speaking English and, once we’re given their contact information, it’s up to us to set up a meeting and start practicing.

Intercambios are the best thing to happen to my Spanish conversational skills since the Spanishdict app. I’ve met with many of my friends’ intercambios as well as my own, and they are all extremely friendly and speak near-flawless English too boot. They help you with your grammar mistakes and teach you slang that varies from the useful to the, well, less-than-appropriate.

One of the sights I saw while exploring Sevilla with my intercambio - Plaza de España

One of the sights I saw while exploring Sevilla with my intercambio – Plaza de España

The other night I had my first dinner out where it was just me with my intercambio and her Spanish-speaking friends. To say the least, it was intimidating. Not a word of English was spoken. Many times I ended up grimacing because I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to react with surprise, disgust, or happiness. The pace of conversation was so fast that whole minutes passed with stories flying over my head as constantly nibbled on my food to make it look like I had a reason for my silence. Every once in a while, my intercambio would turn to me and translate a story that had just passed, rapid-fire and full of slang I don’t know, between her two friends.

Though the experience may have been a little bewildering, it was fulfilling in a way that spending a night speaking in English wouldn’t have been. I felt like, though I struggled, I was accomplished in some way.

And the things worth accomplishing, the ones that leave us with a sense of pride after we’ve achieved them, are the ones that present the hardest struggle along the way.

Intercambio night! Spaniards, Americans, Brits, Germans, and more.

Intercambio night! Spaniards, Americans, Brits, Germans, and more.

To help with navigating the struggle that is overcoming the language barrier, I’ve compiled some facts/ tips that I’ve picked up in the last month and a half:

  • You will be scared. Don’t be. Nervousness may keep you from saying something wrong, but it will never allow you the chance to learn how to say it right.
  • (Most) people appreciate your efforts. Speaking in a country’s native language shows an appreciation for the people and their culture, and you are more likely to run into people who will help you through a conversation than people who will judge you for your mistakes.
  • Learning a language takes time; progress may seem slow, but as long as you keep practicing it will happen. Everyday phrases will become easier when you actually start using them everyday.
  • Sometimes the only reason you understand what people are saying is because of the accompanying hand signals they make.
    • Just today I had an entire conversation with my tapas professor using hand motions and sounds to imitate what food would sound like in the pan. Seriously. (And it was probably the most entertaining conversation I had all day). You can get by even when you don’t have the words to, so don’t get flustered when you can’t figure out what you need to say.

Emily Laurinec-Studer, DUSA blogger

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The Post You’ve Been Waiting For: Foodies in Zanzibar

Hamjambo!

So if you know me, you know I love everything about food: the smell, restaurants, cooking, and especially eating.  I know that once I come back from Zanzibar, after friends and family tell me how tan I’m getting (which is pretty tan if I must say so myself), they’ll ask me about what I learned to cook.  Meals in Zanzibar are different than anywhere else I have visited, so I thought it would be cool to, instead of just saying the food I’m eating, to take you all through the steps of a Zanzibari meal.

Firstly, you are invited to a friend’s home for dinner.  Dinner is eaten pretty late here, anywhere between 7 and 10 pm (that’s 1 and 4 usiku in Swahili time), so you show up around seven thirty because Swahili time is never on-time.  The most important thing is that you take your shoes off when you enter – in Islam, shoes are considered dirty and shouldn’t be worn in the house.  Also, if this is a formal occasion, you should dress for it.  That means full headscarf and makeup (and for the mzungus, makeup to make you look Arabic).  For Eid al-Adha, a Muslim holiday celebrating the end of hajj (the pilgrimmage to Mecca), I had my makeup (over)done by my host mom.  See below.

Anyway, back to the meal.  You need to greet your host with a handshake (people use the “limp fish” handshake technique or just a low high-five basically) and you hold on until you’ve finished multiple rounds of greetings.  There’s no appetizers set out, no glass of wine (Muslims don’t drink alcohol), just a floor mat and pillows or if you’re lucky, a couch.  Eventually, you hear “Chakula tayari!” (food’s ready!) and you head for the dining room.  You’d expect a dining room like at home with miscellaneous paintings on the walls and a table and chairs in the middle.  Wrong.  There’s an eating mat spread out on the floor with some plastic on top for food spillage, which will definitely happen.  No chairs, no table; you sit on the floor cross-legged around all your friends and family.

The food spread out before you is like nothing you’ve ever seen: breads, beans, some veggie things, something that looks like a fat pyramid, mounds and mounds of rice, potatoes (the potatoes here are incredibly sweet), fruits, and that one thing you know you love – chapatti.  Chapatti is a wonderful food, it’s a flat bread that’s buttery and flaky and I almost don’t want to know how it’s made because I know it’s going to be extremely unhealthy.  You do a second count of the people in the room and look at the amount of food for those people and think that there’s no way that double the amount of people could finish the meal in front of you.  Wrong again.

Those breads: chapatti, coconut bread, and boflo (bread loaves)
Beans: I hated beans before I came here, now I love them.  Still have no idea how to make them.
Veggies: peas in a curry coconut sauce, pilau which is a soup with potatoes, meats, peppers, onions, tomatoes, and whatever else you want basically
Fat Pyramids: they’re called samosas and they’re incredible.  They’re usually come in beef or veggie form, and they’re basically the meat and veggies wrapped up in filo dough, similar to what they use to make baklava in Greek recipes
Rice: a staple of a Zanzibari diet.

One of the first things I learned in Zanzibar was to always serve yourself, don’t let a Zanzibari do it because you will get your dinner plate covered in rice with the top of the mound rising about six inches off the plate (and that’s no exaggeration), and then you get pilau and other stuff on top of it.

Oh, and did I mention that Zanzibaris don’t use silverware?  It is common and accepted to eat with your hands.  It is both a cultural and religious belief – that Mungu (God) made us to eat with our hands and he gave our hands something that makes the food taste sweet that you lose if you use silverware.  My first time eating with my hands was an absolute disaster, there was rice everywhere but in my belly.  I’ve picked up on some of the techniques now though, and I can almost finish a plate like a Zanzibari.

So you’ve been eating with your hands all these foods you’ve never seen before, and are ready to birth your food baby when your host grabs your plate and you think you’re finished.  Haha, NOPE.  An equally huge portion of rice, pilau, meats, and everything else gets piled back on your plate.  Your expression just drops as you realize that you might actually throw up if you keep eating.  A helpful phrase is “nimeshiba”, meaning “I am full”, but that actually means nothing to Zanzibaris and you have to eat more food anyway.  And once you’re actually done and there’s no more food to be piled on your plate, it’s time for chai!  Chai (communal name for all tea in Kiswahili) here is delicious and spicy and served extremely hot, which is great on super hot and humid days!

And by the way, cooking is done on the floor as well.  So hope your leg muscles are ready for a bunch of squats!

Anyway, once you’re finished with absolutely everything, it’s time to head back home, so you thank your host with goodbyes that are longer than the greetings, put your shoes back on, and pass out on your bed from all the food you ate.  Time to do it again tomorrow night!

Asante sana kwa kusoma!

Kim, DUSA Blogger

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Tabor’s Blog: Rabat, Morocco

Ever wanted to know what it’s like to live in Morocco? One of our students, Tabor, is currently studying abroad in Rabat, the capital of Morocco, and is sharing his incredible stories of food, excursions, and local holidays through his blog. Take a look here:

http://www.taborjames.com/

"Just me on a camel. NBD"

“Just me on a camel. NBD”

 

 

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Kristen’s Blog: Arusha, Tanzania

Take a look at Kristen’s blog as she studies abroad in Arusha, Tanzania. Aside from being fantastically written and interesting, her blog is named after a Toto song and her background theme is the Lion King. All in all, those three aspects make up an irresistible package and we’d love to share it with you!

http://iblessedtherains.blogspot.com/

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A Wedding Fundraiser!

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How to Survive Your First Week Abroad

Greetings fellow Pios!

I have successfully completed an entire week of classes at the University of York, which means that I have finished my third week abroad when factoring in my pre-class time here in England. The past three weeks have been eventful, complete with me discovering misty, Charlotte Bronte-esque fields around campus:

Where’s Heathcliff?

And even venturing off campus, out of the city and up to the seaside to find the sun that can be quite elusive sometimes in York:

Seaside sunrises are something else.

As it would seem I am somewhat “settled in” now, I have compiled a list of protips and anecdotes that have aided in the settling process for your reading pleasure.

Faith’s Settling in Protips-or, How to Not Make a Complete Fool of Yourself While Studying Abroad. 

  • In your Study Abroad 101 sessions and regional sessions, the DUSA staff will tell you over and over again that you will need to learn self-advocacy while abroad, even more so than while you are at DU. Take that seriously, because it’s so true. Here at York Uni, they won’t chase you down to make sure you’ve registered your visa or registered for classes or are even in the proper department. They’ll just conclude that you’re not a full-time student if you don’t handle those things yourself, and you will have to deal with immigration services in an unpleasant way. (Now, that’s not to say that the University of York doesn’t have any student support services. They have a very well-developed student welfare system, but it handles personal matters and not academic ones).
  • Fall asleep in your first formal class. Be really embarrassed about it because you were in the front row and your prof totally saw you dozing. Then let it go, because it happens to the best of us, and sometimes the quickest lessons are learned by humiliation.
  • Realize that there are very few contact hours in England (especially in York) universities when compared to the States. Plan out your own study hours carefully so you don’t get screwed over, and then look for a volunteer position or even a part-time job to fill the downtime. It’s a great way to get connected with the community and meet people outside the Uni.
  • See if your school has an International Student’s Association. They may have a very active one like at York that plans day trips nearly every weekend of the term. Go on a few of these, even if you barely know the people there. Connecting with other internationals has been hugely beneficial to me as they are well aware of any difficulties I’m having getting used to English life.

Exploring Cambridge, England with a fellow international student from Germany!

  • Step outside your comfort zone a bit when it comes to socialization. Don’t do things that are contrary to your personality or convictions, but if you’re not a huge late night person, push yourself and try going to a pub night once a week. So far, I’ve found that pubs in York are an excellent way to get to know your new friends and classmates. Typically, they are not very noisy and have a warm, homey atmosphere that facilitates get-to-know-you moments. Trying out different pubs in your area is also a great way to get to know the city.

Every study abroad experience is going to be different and is going to require different levels and forms of personal growth. But I would venture to say that the concepts of learning to stand up for yourself and advocate for yourself, trying new things socially and academically, and making friends in groups you wouldn’t have even considered previously are fairly universal.

-Faith Lierheimer, DUSA Blogger

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Jacques’ Blog: Glasgow, Scotland

Check out what Jacques, one of our students is, doing studying at the University Glasgow in Scotland. We feel that this picture of his friend sums it up pretty well, but check out his blog for more details!

http://www.jacquesgerber.blogspot.com/

 

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Livin’ La Vida Uni

Hello! Just finished my first week of classes abroad. I am taking three classes: a management class that covers a requirement back at DU, a history of Wales class covering the age of Princes, and a Making Snowdonia geography class. The latter is a field course, so five weeks of lectures about the environment and neighboring national park, but then in week six the class goes on field trips around Snowdonia National Park to different sites to learn about the agriculture, geology, plants, and animals of the area. I have class a day for one or two hours depending on the class, so there’s a lot of downtime in my life right now. It’ll get busier as the semester progresses I’m sure with papers and tests. My weekly schedule is never the same because each class session is revered in itself because it might be taught by a different professor and they have planned to a T what will happen. It’s a little irritating but it is what it is. Also, every other week or so there is a tutorial session where the class is broken into smaller groups and attendance is recorded to monitor our progress.

 The dorm is very nice. I like having my own little room to come to at the end of every day. The kitchen is shared with six other people. I have cooked a few times. Last Tuesday I thought I started the stove, so I had my pot with the water I thought was boiling on top, but turns out I had just turned the oven on. My Scottish flatmate came in and asked me if I was using “the hob” and I replied “the what???” and she then turned off oven and turned on the stove so whew no harm done with the accidental turning on of oven. For future reference for myself, hob = stove. Although the dorms are very new and very clean, there have apparently in the past been problems with the fire alarms. All over the door to my room and in the kitchen there are signs warning against false fire alarms due to unattended cooking, aerosol use, or steam from showers. And every Thursday they do a sound check of the system. So I am always very nervous that the alarm will go off since it is notoriously triggered easily. My “RA” (who are called Wardens here, and the individual dorm buildings are known as blocks…) when giving the safety talk to our flat said that there will be a fire drill sometime soon and one IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT… awesome..just awesome.

 I mentioned in my first post that Bangor is a very hilly city. And boy is that the truth. Everyday I’m walking somewhere and huffing and puffing up and down these hills carrying my bag. The city is classified into two parts: Upper Bangor and Lower Bangor. Upper Bangor is where the university is situated and where I live; lower Bangor is where the high street is and the railway station and bigger grocery stores. The hill that I walk that connects the two is fondly known as “B**ch Hill” by the students. I had heard about this infamous part of Bangor before coming to Bangor but I’d thought it the hill from the site my dorm is on to Morrison’s the grocery store, so when I had felt like the walk to Morrison’s was actually pretty easy, the universe laughed and I found the bigger hill.

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Aight this isn’t too bad…

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…haha says the universe

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…hilarious

 I really do walk everywhere. Today, for example, I think I trekked 6+ miles round trip to Penrhyn Castle just outside the city. So my feet hurt all the time and my shoes are already being worn down! But hopefully all this walking will mean great legs for ski season!

During welcome week, the university held their giant two day “Fresher’s Fair” full of all of the clubs and societies available. I ended up putting my name down for the majority because hey it’s fun and a lot of the tables had free stuff. This week the clubs and societies had taster sessions to go to if you wanted more information about the particular club. Thus far I have gone to a Mad Hatter tea party for the Books and Quills club, a craft night for the craft club, a BBQ for the gardening club, and a grub crawl for the Christian Union. I don’t know (or think) I will official join anything but all of these were a great way to meet more people and experience their uni life.

It’s all a overwhelming experience so far but I take it day by day and I constantly remind myself to soak it all in because this is once in a lifetime and I am grateful for all the opportunities and chances I have thus far! Can’t wait to see what’s next!

 

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But most of the time, the trekking everywhere leads to spectactular views!

 

 

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